Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi is introducing legislation that would award a long-overdue Congressional Gold Medal to the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.”
The mostly Black infantry regiment was from the New York Army National Guard and served during World War I and World War II. It was one of the first African American regiments to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces.
Spending over 190 days in frontline trenches, 1,500 men died, the most losses of any American regiment. Despite fighting for the nation, the Harlem Hellfighters faced racial discrimination in the United States.
“It is never too late to do the right thing,” Suozzi said. “The Harlem Hellfighters, who served on the front lines for more time than any other American regiment during World War I, were subjected to discrimination by their own army and were never properly recognized for their invaluable contributions to our country.”
Former Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel, and veteran who was also president of the Manhattan/Richmond chapter of the 369th Veterans Association, former New York State Assembly Member Keith Wright, whose grandfather was a Harlem Hellfighter and Debra Willett, granddaughter of a Harlem Hellfighter, were all on hand in Harlem for the announcement last week.
Only one Medal of Honor has been awarded to a Harlem Hellfighter along with several Distinguished Service Crosses to members of the Harlem Hellfighters. Several members were also honored by the French government. A 12-foot black granite monument containing the 369th Infantry Regiment’s crest and insignia stands at 5th Avenue and 142nd Street.